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Prayer shouldn’t be the cause of contention


It’s a sad day in America when an honor student’s desire to give thanks to God for the blessings of freedom causes a national uproar.

That is what happened when Medina Valley valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand wanted to incorporate prayer within her speech. Because of this simple request, lawsuits and countersuits were filed.

Things have changed since 1969 when the ACLU first supported the right of student speech with its landmark ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines. From the ACLU Web site: The Supreme Court found that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The ACLU argued on behalf of a student’s right to wear a black armband at school to protest the Vietnam War. “We continue to fight for students’ constitutional right to free speech,” reads the ACLU statement.

As far as I know, the ACLU was nowhere around this year when one agnostic family sued the Medina Valley ISD over school prayer in its commencement ceremony.

District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio ruled that the school was to avoid any prayer or anything resembling prayer during its 50th graduation ceremony.

His ruling required that the words “invocation” and “benediction” be removed from the printed programs. The ruling also prohibited speakers from asking the audience to stand, join in prayer, bow their heads, or end their remarks with “amen.” The ruling required the school district to “review, and make necessary changes to, the students’ revised remarks to ensure those changes comply.”

The words “invocation” and “benediction” were removed from the program; however, prayer was restored, thanks to quick action by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He filed an amicus brief asking the Fifth Circuit to overturn what he called a “legally flawed order.” He asked that the graduation speakers’ First Amendment rights be respected.

The attorney general explained that the district court “improperly required Medina Valley Independent School District to censor its students’ graduation speeches and violated students’ constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment prohibits governments from interfering with Americans’ rights to freely express their religious beliefs -- yet that is exactly what this misguided court order attempts to achieve,” Abbott said.

Our own Gov. Rick Perry supports prayer and has recently joined in urging all governors and national leaders to participate in a prayer gathering in Houston on Aug. 6. Congress also convenes each day with a prayer, so there is no reason that high school students cannot pray during their graduation speeches if they want to. Most agree that they have earned that right.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.”

It appears that one high school student may have had a better understanding of the Constitution than did a district judge. There is hope for our future.

God bless America.

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